Q: My boss demands that I respond instantly to all her communications. When she wants something, she emails or texts or calls me. I like to use email, especially to make sure I don't get blamed for making a mistake that's not mine if something goes wrong. So no matter how she sends me information, I follow up all her communications with an email confirming the details. If she emails me, I respond with an email. If she calls me, I give her the information she wants and confirm it with an email. If she texts me, I return the text and confirm the information in an email.
Recently, I discovered this pisses her off. She has commented about me wasting my time and her time with the emails. However, I don't think it's a waste of time. I think it's professional to confirm all information by creating a record of it; phone calls don't do that (you can't record a verbal request) and texts are hard to track back to the original contact.
She probably thinks I'm protecting myself against her, and I am. Her communications depend on her moods and energy level at the time. Sometimes she's hyper and not clear. Sometimes she's upset and omits info I need. I have completed tasks where she comes back and says, "That's not what I asked for." But it is what she asked for, and I need backup to show her. It's the only way I can work for someone who is impetuous and emotional.
How do I explain why I confirm everything with an email without it seeming like the obvious — that I don't trust her. I never know what mood she'll be in, nor do I care why. I just don't want her blaming me, which happens because she has no idea her different moods affect her communication ability.
A: You are right to confirm everything in an email, and you're also right that she knows why you are doing it. But you are wrong about her having no idea of her moods or her shifting communication skills. She is aware of it and it concerns her, which is why your confirmation emails upset her. It exposes her emotional problems, which is confronting. When people are faced with a problem, they have two choices: Ignore it or deal with it.
If she is experiencing menopausal symptoms, which can mean mood swings or forgetfulness, then you're treading in rough water where there's not much you can do. If she's not of that age, you may be reminding her of a problem she hasn't dealt with. Personality problems usually play out through social contact. What you see at work is likely similar to what her family members see at home. People are the way they are. Though certain situations can trigger specific character flaws or temporary emotional problems, it's a rare person who can hide all their emotional responses, regardless of the setting and the situation.
Your emails, as basic and necessary as you think they are, may make it difficult for her to live in denial of her emotional issues. Don't ignore her anger or frustration. Tell her you send email confirmations so she can see if you are correctly interpreting what she wants. It gives her an opportunity to add to or change the information in case you've misunderstood. You want to do a good job, and your being efficient will make her job go more smoothly. Good bosses know that high-performance employees add to their own reputation as a good leader. She may not be at this leadership level, but you will never go wrong by making a boss feel good about his or her ability. It's not false flattery. It's building one's confidence, and all people respond well to a kind and positive approach.
Email career coach [email protected] with your workplace questions and experiences. For more information, visit www.lindseyparkernovak.com and for past columns, see www.creators.com/read/At-Work-Lindsey-Novak.